Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Beware of Gaps & Inconsistencies!

Have you ever been reading along in a text only to find yourself scratching your head and saying, Huh? Something’s missing here! or Didn’t that writer just say the opposite a little while ago? If so, you’ve just encountered a gap or an inconsistency in a text.

Even the best writers make mistakes. Sometimes they leave out some important element, creating a gap in their writing. Other times, they contradict themselves somehow to create an inconsistency. In this lesson, we’ll learn how to identify some common gaps in nonfiction and fiction texts, and practice identifying inconsistencies in both kinds of texts.

Gaps in Arguments

Nonfiction argumentative texts are often prone to gaps because writers sometimes leave out important parts of their arguments. Every argument must have three elements:

  • A claim that states the writer’s position
  • Reasons that logically develop the claim
  • Evidence that supports the reasons and proves the claim

If any one of those elements is missing or underdeveloped, the text ends up with a gap. Let’s look at an example. A writer wants to convince readers to vote for Mr. Smith for mayor. Let’s say he writes something like this:

Mr. Smith is dedicated to improving our community. As a city council member, he voted to allocate funds for street improvements, a new swimming pool, and historical preservation. Mr. Smith is also committed to helping the needy in our town. He has donated over $1,000 of his own money to the local food shelf, volunteers for several important charities, and supports the building of a homeless shelter.

What is missing? What does the writer want the reader to do? That’s right. He wants readers to vote for Mr. Smith as mayor, but he doesn’t say that. His argument is missing a claim.

Now let’s say the writer created a piece like this: Vote for Mr. Smith for mayor! He’s the best candidate for the job! Something is definitely missing here: reasons and evidence. Why is Mr. Smith the best candidate for the job? The writer doesn’t tell us.

What if the writer created something like this? Vote for Mr. Smith for mayor! He is dedicated to improving our community and committed to helping the needy in our town. Now the writer has both a claim and reasons but no evidence to support his reasons. There is still a gap.

Gaps in Informational Texts

Informational texts can also have gaps. Informational texts are those that give readers facts about a subject, present a collection of ideas, or explain some kind of process. Gaps occur when writers leave out important facts, improperly develop their ideas, or miss steps in a process.

Let’s say a writer is describing the process of editing a photograph using a computer program. He begins with the step Open your photo editing software and select a picture. But he has missed something important. How did the picture get on the computer in the first place? Some readers may not know how to transfer a photo from a memory card or camera. For a more thorough description, he would need to include that step in the process.

What if you are reading an essay describing the primary characteristics of elephants and the writer includes plenty of information about elephants’ appearance, behavioral characteristics, and growth cycles but forgets to mention where elephants live or what they eat? Those are some major gaps!

Gaps in Fiction

Gaps can occur in works of fiction, too. Fiction stories contain some common characteristics: a storyline or plot, a setting, characters, and a point or points of view. If any of these are missing or underdeveloped, the text will have a gap. Let’s look at each in turn.

When a text has a gap in its plot, it leaves important questions unanswered. If, for instance, a mystery story has three suspects and by the end of the story, one is found to be guilty and another innocent, but the third is ignored completely, then the plot has a major gap.

Readers should be able to envision a story’s setting, at least as much as necessary to understand how it relates to and influences the plot and characters. A missing or underdeveloped setting leads to gaps in the text. Let’s say the story takes place on a desert island that is only minimally described. Readers will be left with many questions about how the setting plays a role in the story.

Characters need to be developed enough for the readers to understand their roles in the story and relate to them on some level. Gaps happen when important characters lack proper development. For example, what if the writer never refers to the background of a major character? Readers will have a much more difficult time understanding that character.

Writers should strive for a smooth and consistent point of view even when they switch point of view characters throughout a story. If a text’s point of view is choppy or ill-defined, it can lead to gaps in the action or the explanation of the action and can confuse readers. For instance, what if one character narrates Monday’s events and the other picks up Wednesday’s events? Readers are certainly going to wonder what happened to Tuesday.


Along with gaps, writers sometimes accidentally introduce inconsistencies or contradictions into their texts. This can happen in both nonfiction and fiction writing.

Let’s return to our example about Mr. Smith for mayor. If the writer creating the campaign materials states in one place that Mr. Smith gave $1,000 to charity and in another place says he gave $100, this is an inconsistency. It could affect the credibility of the text, and it definitely merits further research on the part of responsible readers.

Fiction authors are even more prone to inconsistencies, especially when they create a series of stories with the same characters. It can be difficult to remember all the details they’ve used in the past. For example, in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, John H. Watson narrates nearly every story, but in The Man with the Twisted Lip, Watson’s wife calls him James! Also, in the Harry Potter stories, Harry saw his parents die when he was just one year old, but he couldn’t see the thestrals (who only appear to people who have witnessed death) in the first five books until after he saw Sirius Black die. Why not?

Inconsistencies don’t necessarily need to ruin the enjoyment of a story, but readers should be on guard for them. Part of being a good reader is to recognize inconsistencies, try to solve them if possible (did Harry’s witness of his parents’ deaths not count because he was too young to understand what was going on?), or simply accept them as an occasional part of reading fiction.

Lesson Summary

Even the best writers make mistakes. A gap happens when a writer leaves out some important element, and an inconsistency occurs when a writer contradicts himself or herself.

Nonfiction argumentative texts are often prone to gaps, which occur when writers leave out a claim, reasons, and/or evidence. Gaps in informational texts happen when writers leave out important facts, improperly develop their ideas, or miss steps in a process. In fiction texts, gaps are present when a storyline or plot, a setting, characterization, or a proper point of view is missing or underdeveloped.

Texts can also have inconsistencies or contradictions, which can affect the credibility of nonfiction texts and the enjoyment of fiction texts. Part of being a good reader is to be on guard for gaps and inconsistencies so you can at least recognize them and then determine how much they affect the text.

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